JANESVILLE, Wis. — In the end House Speaker Paul Ryan's GOP primary Tuesday turned out like most others from his 18-year career — a blowout win.
Despite laser-focused national attention on his otherwise sleepy intra-party match-up, Ryan's roots in Wisconsin's 1st District were too deep for political novice and Badger State newcomer Paul Nehlen to overcome.
"I am humbled and honored that Wisconsinites in the 1st Congressional District support my efforts to keep fighting on their behalf," Ryan said in a statement after his landslide victory. "Janna and I are grateful to have the support of so many in southern Wisconsin, and we are truly thankful for all of their hard work."
Nehlen catapulted to cable news fame after Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump tweeted supportive words at the water filtration company executive Aug. 1. That led to days of speculation that Trump intended to snub Ryan and endorse Nehlen. Trump finally relented and gave the 46-year-old Ryan a half-hearted stamp of approval on Friday.
Conservative pundits unhappy with Republican congressional leaders, including Sarah Palin and Sean Hannity, latched onto Nehlen and lent him their support. But it mostly motivated disaffected Republicans outside of Ryan's southeastern Wisconsin district.
By Tuesday afternoon Nehlen said he was confident he'd emerge victorious but his words betrayed that assertion. Speaking to CNN, he claimed that his startup campaign — he didn't enter the race until March 29 and has amassed a less than $1 million war chest according to the most recent Federal Election Commission filings — scored a "moral" victory.
Nehlen hammered Ryan over his support for trade promotion authority and trade treaties. In the last few weeks, Ryan stood by TPA and trade deals in general, but said he would not give the Trans-Pacific Partnership a floor vote and that he could not back the 12-nation agreement in its current form.
"I don't think we have the votes to pass it right now because of people like me," Ryan said during a visit to a Racine-based manufacturer on Monday. "Right now that agreement isn't there, it isn't up to that standard yet, in my opinion."
Polls heading into Tuesday showed Ryan with a substantial lead.
"The polling data prior to the election suggests a limited opposition," Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette University Law School poll told the Washington Examiner Tuesday morning.
"I'm a Janesville girl, so I'm going to look at Ryan and his values," a teacher here named Kim said as she exited her polling station. "I'm not happy with him and some of the things he's done, but you have to look at the big picture and you have to look down the road," she said.
Nehlen "is probably a great guy" but his points were not enough to sway Kim, who did not want to give her last name, and the majority of locals who voted on Tuesday.
About an hour after his decisive victory, Ryan convened a news conference to thank southern Wisconsin voters.
"Thank you; thank you for your trust," Ryan said. "Thank you for your confidence. Thank you for your support in my efforts."
Ryan acknowledged that voters are frustrated but said turning on each other does not help.
"There is a lot of anger" in the electorate, he said. "The people want to see Congress and their elected leaders tackle those problems not duck" them. "They want someone who works to effectively advance our founding principles."
Division is an easy mode to fall into, he said. "That stuff sells but it doesn't stick."